12/19/20: August Wilson Gets to His Black Bottom #poetry

12/19/20: August Wilson Gets to His Black Bottom #poetry

August Wilson is better than Arthur Miller

As good as Eugene O’Neill

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

the bottom of the black man’s pain

which is the human pain

the bottom of the essence of personhood

how it rebels, defies, distorts

the artist as black man

following the requirements of an inner voice

angry with the community

doing it her way

the entertainer as black man

shaking her ass for the master

smiling and dancing

surviving and having fun

the religious man as black man

finding her dignity in a God

while denied it by white men

the fratricidal man as black man

hurting and mocking and threatening and raping and murdering her brothers and sisters

in futile attempts to escape frustration and feel power

the blessed moments of unity

atonement with each other

in the ecstasy of song

All the shadows and angels of mankind

refracted through a raw black prism

a flesh and blood prism

all the colors of people of color

all the colors of people

locked in a proscenium box

fighting it out

the past as prologue

the past as map


I thought that I write more like Joan Didion than August Wilson

I don’t need the actors or settings

all of the work that Wilson did

to master a genre

who needs the genre I reckon

and that’s right for me

but that was August Wilson’s way

he took the white man’s way

the Greeks at the Parthenon

and he turned it into a black thing

then turned it inside out into a human thing

Joan Didion took the personal essay

and made it a way to describe the world

I kind of do that but it’s different

my style is more verbal than literary

but what difference does it make

what difference does it make \

if we are black or white

or man or woman

or playwright or monologist

what makes a writer is what you try for

writers are crazy

they think they can understand themselves

and the world

and history

They think they can understand

a woman on the news drones on new age fake wisdom about forgiveness

as if it was a choice

you can’t just decide to forgive

you have to go through things

and get down to the black bottom

you just have to see what is happening

understanding is better than forgiveness

the writer is an explorer

in a sub-atomic submarine

on a fantastic voyage

impossibly trying to sail down

down to the bloody black bottom of a bottomless wound

wounded by racism

wounded by capitalism and exploitation

wounded by betrayal

wounded by violent treachery

intended to separate us from our true gifts

tantalized by moments of free expression

we take only a few breaths in a lifetime

and the writers write about that

all of the real writers

no matter where they are from

or where they write

or who reads or listens or looks

write about that

the fight for breath

Jesus and Marx and Freud and Darwin

and especially the real artists and writers

who go to a bottom

not found in any of the big ideas

a bottom

in the glorious tragedy of human existence

Real writers wake from dreams and nightmares

and are free

accepting all of the world’s frustrations and opportunities

serene in who they are

August Wilson was a happy man when he finished a project

shedding a tear for his own suffering and the world’s

singing his song his way

undeterred by exploitation and thieves

To understand rather than care about being understood …

what a wonderful world

that men and women look at

as if they were wearing poorly prescribed eyeglasses

There is an abundance

beyond society and history

and especially beyond whatever you decided to serve

as your personal philosophy

instead of taking the arduous and rewarding journey

of descending into the black bottom.

Copyright 2020 Richard Thomas

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